FENCES

The dogs ran away yesterday. I mean really ran away. Ran away in the morning and didn’t return till 9:30 at night, just before I returned from our Tuesday evening sitting.

They practically twisted themselves silly, wheedling and kowtowing; they knew they’d done wrong. I thought for a moment about feeding them for they’d missed their meals, then decided to wait till the regular time next morning. “Restaurant closed hours ago,” I told them.

I almost cried from relief. It was getting very cold outside and earlier I had driven across three towns looking for them. As 4:00 and then 5:00 arrived, time for coming in from the cold and eating dinner, with no sign of them (Harry especially would ordinarily never be late to a meal if he could help it), I began a series of calls to the local animal rescue officers and shelters to see if anyone had found them. No luck, and my heart filled with dread. I went to Green River Zen for the Tuesday evening program, and when I drove into the garage Aussie’s head poked out of the dog door.

“And Harry?” I wondered, heart beating.

Harry was in, too, lying on the sofa, too exhausted to greet me.

Since December it had become clear that the fence we’d had installed around our yard back in 2005 was not holding. Our last dogs never tried to jump over, poke their way through or dig under. Aussie and Harry are a different kettle of dogs, Aussie especially. Over months Tim had bolstered the fence in different places, and each time we thought we’d blocked all exits. But Aussie didn’t give up. I’d see her patrolling up and down the perimeter, sniffing out an opening like Sherlock Holmes.

Last night, exhausted and unwell, I went upstairs and found her on my bed. Aussie has never wanted to sleep on my bed or, for that matter, in the adjoining dog bed; both dogs prefer to sleep downstairs. But this is not the first time that Aussie, aware of a breakdown in relationship, goes upstairs and gets up on the bed, slapping her tail loudly as I come in:

“Come on, let’s be friends. Don’t get mad, I’m back, ain’t I?” Slap slap slap as her eyes follow me eagerly around the room. “Let’s pretend this never happened.”

I made no eye contact with her. She jumped down and went onto the dog bed, and soon afterwards went downstairs. They’re in lockdown now. Dog door barred, no going out into the yard without me or a leash. It’s a pain for dogs and human used to free access between house and yard, but that’s how it has to be.

Winter is not the best time to do serious fencing in New England, the ground frozen hard under snow. But I called around, and it now seems that Friday two nice men will erect a 6-foot fence from one corner of our large yard to another. Luckily the old posts are still firm and can hold a taller fence than the one originally installed. But I don’t kid myself, even with 6 feet of fencing all around, I’ll be watching Aussie very carefully.

“I’ll dig under,” she told me from the bed last night.

“Not this winter, you won’t. Earth is frozen solid. And by the time spring and summer arrive, if this doesn’t hold I’ll take everything down and start from scratch.”

I’ve never had a dog as smart as Aussie. When I first got her from the pound everyone congratulated me on getting a well-socialized dog who could communicate well with dogs and humans (except for the men she’s afraid of), not so common for dogs adopted from a shelter.

But a few months later she began to run. I should have taken it more seriously right then; I didn’t, and last night I did go into a brief jag of teary self-recrimination.

But it was gone this morning when I walked both dogs on leash, examining the fence. Fences are important. We need to know what stays in, what can go out, what’s private, what’s public. What serves the family as a whole. Bernie and I worked on that a lot.

I realized that I’d adopted both dogs with the assumption that I would continue walking them off-leash in the woods as I’d done the previous 14 years with other dogs, that they would be companions. I wanted them to be free. I wanted to be free, not hold on to them on leash, getting entangled among the trees, having to keep my mind on them rather than on the forest and animals around me.

Today I began to finally let go of that fantasy. Aussie’s different from previous dogs, so none of those past assumptions are relevant. She, as she is right now, is what I must build on, not some fairytale I made up based on the past. Right now I don’t know what that means. She may never get to go off-leash again; we may never get to be companions in the woods, which is a big shame given how much we both seem to love it. But I can’t afford another day like the one I had yesterday.

I’m curious what those dogs did for 12 hours, especially when darkness and cold set in and they were probably hungry, and still didn’t come home for another 4-5 hours. They may have had a great adventure; they may have been kidnapped by the witch that almost ate Hansel and Gretel and finally made a run for it.

I do know that when the past-based fantasy I had came crashing down, it brought with it a measure of relief. I felt more ready to go with what is and see possibilities in my life now as a single woman with two young dogs who need  fences and lots of patience. Aussie may not be able to run as long as she had till now, but hopefully the three of us will have a good long run ahead of us for a number of years.